Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Psalm 103: 1 – 5, 22b
Happy Birthday! We are 550 years old, and we look good! Yes, the worldwide Moravian Church is celebrating our 550th Anniversary in 2007 and we have come together here today as part of that great milestone. Gatherings have been held this year in Mlada Boleslav in the Czech Republic, Herrnhut, Bethlehem, Appleton, WI, Coventry Cathedral in England, the Hague and many other places throughout the Moravian world, and this is our turn today.
The idea for this gathering began in 2002 when representatives of all Moravian provinces gathered in a Unity Synod at Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA, USA under the presidency of a very Abel fellow from South Africa. At the opening session of the Synod, he read a letter of greeting from the BBSA which in turn was answered by the Asst. Director of the Moravian Music Foundation. The next year, five members of the BBSA traveled to Winston-Salem, NC, USA to participate in the 21st Moravian Music Festival held at Salem College, and again in 2006 three players from the BBSA traveled to the 22nd Moravian Music Festival in Columbus, OH.
In 2005 a planning gathering was held at Uitenhage with the BBSA executive, as well as the brethren Ben van den Bosch and Albert Frank, and Sr. Femmy and the dream began to take shape of a festival of brass players from the South African, European
Continental and American Northern and Southern Provinces coming together here today for this event. Emails beyond number, telephone calls and unceasing prayer have combined to make this celebration of our 550th Anniversary unique and a first-ever occasion.
But, let us not get caught up in being too self-congratulatory, even though we have good cause to proud.
Like those gathered for the 500th anniversary celebrations in Bethlehem in 1957, we need to hear again the words of the Psalmist –
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give honor for your grace and faithfulness. (Psalm 115:1).
We have come together to the Good Hope Centre through the Lord’s grace experiencing travel mercies, leaving loved ones who would like to be with us, and enjoying the support of the Moravian Church Foundation as well as the many congregations that we represent.
Exactly fifty years ago today, the last General Synod of the Moravian Unity adjourned after a month of sessions. It had been twenty-six years since the church had been able to be in Synod and the world had changed vastly. English replaced German as the official language of the church and the German delegates needed translators rather than the Americans and British. The Second World War had redrawn the map of Europe, the so-called Marshall
Plan had linked Europe and America in new ways, and some of the old missions of the Moravian Church had become nearly self-supporting Provinces. A new statement of theology was adopted, a revised constitution formulated, a new principle of every province joining in Unity finances at the rate of $100 per delegate per year was adopted, and the possibility of ordaining women for the ministry of the church found acceptance. And let it be noted, that the first woman delegate since the Zinzendorf era was among the brethren.
At the conclusion of the sessions, Bishop Kenneth G. Hamilton who was the president of the Synod said that the Synod had enacted changes that it would take the church fifty years to realize.
Bishop Hamilton made very few mistakes, but when he did they were worth making. His statement about taking 50 years to realize what the 1957 Synod did was a serious understatement. We have changed from General to Unity Synods, adopted equal representation of the provinces, seated more former mission fields as Unity Provinces, opened new work, and continually seek new direction from our Chief Elder whose festival we celebrate today.
But we have not exhausted the vision of 1957. While the working out of those unresolved things is entrusted to the Unity Board, there are some aspects of our life in the Unity that I would invite you to consider me this morning. And I pose a question on which we can focus -
How do WE honor God as representatives of at least four provinces of the world-wide Moravian Church, mindful of our rich heritage and looking toward a future which God will direct, relying on His continuing guidance?
Believing strongly in the proverbial German wisdom that all good things are three, we must first express our honor to His Name for the Creator’s design that we live in community. Adam was told: It is not good that mankind should be alone (Gen. 2: 18). The traditional prayers of intercession in the Book of Common Prayer for Christmas Day remind us that God has set solitary humans in families and so created society for our welfare and enrichment.
While I would be among the first to agree that human society often leaves things to be desired, I would quickly remind us that society has formed the mix out of which the Christian Church has grown. The early history of Herrnhut reminds us of the tensions that existed when people of different societal backgrounds came to live in one place.
And we carried that principle of living I n community to unforeseen developments in the 18th century when we had societal groups for single men, single women, married people, widows, widowers, young girls, young boys, and so forth. We learned to call each other Brother and Sister and to value those societal connections we found in our church life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Protestant martyr of the Second World War, wrote a book entitled LIFE TOGETHER reminding his readers that it is in shared life that we find strength and purpose.
That has been our experience in these past few days and an experience which I challenge all of our brass players to take with them from this gathering. Honor God’s Name by sharing the life we have together in Jesus Christ in our beloved Church.
A second way in which we can honor His Name is through the rich musical heritage that binds us together as Moravians. If I had not known about that before, it was proven richly for me on the evening of May 28, 2005 when Brother Ben was playing the organ at Uitenhage. He had found a choir book and started to sound the notes of Naumann’s “Du süsser Weinstock.” Brother Ronnie started to sing the text in Afrikaans, Sr. Femmy joined with the Dutch text, and I quickly found myself singing the German words. We had an international Moravian jam session enabled by an 18th century piece of music which still speaks to many hearts today. It was a gift that enabled four of us to blend our favorite languages and provide some listening pleasure to those standing around, while we sang of our need for the Savior to bring us new life in the midst of our spiritual longings.
“God gave us music that we might pray without words,” and bind peoples of many nations together in adoration and understanding.
From our very first Moravian hymn “Come, let us all with gladness raise,” penned by Gabriel Kamorovsky in 1467 to the latest composition from the pen of Antonio Lawack, a text by Brian Henkelmann, or a brass arrangement by Albert Engel, God has given us rich cause to honor His Name. The forthcoming hymnal of the German-speaking congregations of the Continental Province reminds us of that rich blessing with its inclusion of hymn texts in many languages used in our worldwide Unity. And we return to the Psalmist’s injunction – “O sing to the Lord a new song.” (98:1)
Third and finally, God calls us to honor His Name by engaging in mission work throughout the world. Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann set out from Herrnhut on August 21, 1732 bound for Saint Thomas in the Danish West Indies. They did not reach their destination until December 12th. The next year three brethren were sent to Greenland, in 1734 men went out to the Native Americans, the following year to Surinam, and in 1737 Georg Schmidt arrived here in the Cape Colony 270 years ago which will be celebrated next weekend in Gnadendal to begin his work in Bavianskloof. Missions became the life and identifying characteristic of the Moravian Church, so much so that English Baptists were challenged by our example to begin their great work in China.
Yet in 1914 things looked grim for the mission work of the Unity. Despite every effort on the part of the Unity Mission Board, the mission deficit had grown to disastrous levels. The work in Unyamwezi was in danger of being given up. All areas of the church faced major cut backs, and the General Synod faced problems unheard of in Moravian history. Bishop Benjamin LaTrobe preached the opening sermon of the Synod in which he reminded the brethren that when God gave the Moravian Church missions, He gave her life. He reminded them further that the results of the General Synod of 1857 stated clearly that ”…a Mission of the Brethren… is…the affair of the whole Church as such. The Missions to not belong to themselves, nor yet to a Society, not even to a portion of the Brethren’s Church, but to the whole Brethren’s Unity.” Quoted in Hutton, Mission History, p. 463)
Not only did the wise bishop save the missions with his great faith, but he sounded a note we need to hear in this 275th Anniversary year of our mission work. God has called us to serve Him and honor His Name through our outreach and service work. Our long
and rich record of mission activity continues today through outreach, diaconal ministries such as the Elim Home, the Herrnhuter Diakonie, and Sunny Side Ministries in Winston-Salem, in such places as our retirement homes and care facilities for the elderly, and in our work amongst handicapped young people on the West Bank. New work is opening in Nepal with a school of music and new congregations, a new school of music in Costa Rica, work in far Eastern Siberia, among Garifuna people in Honduras, and in Albania.
Someone said one time in my hearing that we Moravians specialize in work in impossible places and under impossible circumstances. I disagree. God calls us to work with people of his creation in many places and situations, but with His grace nothing is impossible,
And so we hear again the words of Scripture –
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us but to your name give honor and glory for your grace and faithfulness. Ps 115:1
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ to whom be… glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13: 20, 21